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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

How to Nail Your Digital Interview (and Actually Get to Meet the Hiring Manager in Person)

interviewee doing a digital interview

I have a friend who’s applied to 60 jobs in three months. While that’s a crazy amount of applications, cover letters, and time spent job searching, she basically became a pro at interviewing after the 12th one.

So, when I spoke to her one day to ask her, yet again, how one went, I was surprised when she said “Horrible! I ran out of time and blew it!” Turns out she’d had a digital interview, and after she talked about herself for one minute, the video cut her off. Just like that—question over. No take-backs.

Digital interviews—in which you’re given a set list of questions and record your answers on camera—are increasingly common in the hiring world, especially for first-round or screening interviews. But how do you even begin to prepare for one of these? How do you make the ultimate impression when you have to stare at not an interviewer, but yourself, on a screen? Read on, and I’ll explain everything you need to know about getting through this kind of process with flying colors.

What Is a Digital Interview Like?

You’ll have a minute or two to read and contemplate a question, then another couple minutes to answer it while a camera records you.

Typically, a company will give you a time frame (something between two days and a week) to complete it on your own. During the interview, some organizations provide one redo if you mess up, others unlimited tries, depending on who it is.

What Kinds of Questions Do They Normally Ask in a Digital Interview?

This stage in the process isn’t about stumping or challenging you—recruiters know that it can be a bit awkward, so they tend to stick to traditional questions that you’d normally get in a first-round interview. For example:

What Should I Wear?

Anything you’d normally wear to a Skype or in-person interview—business casual clothing that looks good on camera (stay away from bright designs or patterns).

Career coach Erica Breuer also points out that what you wear isn’t the only important thing:

Sometimes, it’s not what you say, but where you say it. ‘Dress to impress’ applies to your setting as much as it does to what you wear to a video interview. Check your lighting and camera angle. Make sure that pile of used Starbucks cups is out of frame, and shoot for a simple background without too much clutter. (Hint: White washes you out!) That, and maybe hide your One Direction posters—or don’t, depending on the job you’re up for!

Why Do Hiring Managers Do Digital Interviews?

“Video assessment interviews are becoming more and more common and have several pros and cons,” says Ryan Kahn, Career Coach and founder of The Hired Group. “The pros are that this process makes it far easier to screen more candidates without having to meet face-to-face. Which saves time for the employer—and for the candidates, could give a shot to someone who on paper wasn’t necessarily coming in as a front-runner.”

In addition to helping HR sift through more candidates, digital interviews also help standardize interviews and (theoretically) level the playing field—it’s tougher for biased questions to creep in, and HR makes sure they’re asking everyone the same things and comparing everyone equally to each other.

The two big downsides to this interview method: Hiring managers can’t follow up on a certain answer, nor can the candidates ask any questions of their own.

But understand, like Kahn said, that most companies don’t use this on everyone they interview. The fact that you were able to even snag one of these means that your application impressed them—and that they’re eager to get to know you outside your resume or cover letter.

What Are They Looking For?

There are a lot of things a hiring manager could be looking for in your video. She may want to see if you can make a good first impression—a.k.a., are you smiling? Do you look the part?—and that you’re excited for the role.

She also really wants to see how you communicate: “A candidate who stands out is one who is first and foremost succinct and can convey his or her point quickly,” says Amanda Corrado, Talent Acquisition Coordinator at The Muse. If you can sell yourself and your answers without sounding verbose, you’ll impress just about any recruiter.

With this, recruiters also know that working against a clock can be tricky. If you find yourself ranting out of sheer nervousness, don’t be afraid to catch yourself and say “Sorry, I think I’m getting a bit off track. Here’s what I mean to say…” They’ll respect that you’re self-aware and focused on the task at hand.

How Do You Prepare for One?

Digital interviews are like any other interview—you’ll want to be rehearsed on all your basic interview questions, as well as personal stories in case any behavioral questions come up. But there are other things you can do to be prepared for the video aspect of it:

  • Take out a timer and actually give yourself two minutes per response. If you go too long, consider cutting out the “fat,” or parts that don’t directly answer the question.
  • Have a friend mock interview and evaluate you. Don’t have anyone? Mock interview yourself.
  • Practice your speech over your computer camera. You’ll get comfortable with seeing your own face instead of an interviewer’s, plus you’ll also spot whether you need to sit up straighter or shift your gaze less.

While digital interviews can seem a bit overwhelming, I hope this will remind you that it’s not much different than any other kind of interview—and a bit of preparation is all it takes to get to that (arguably) more comfortable in-person round.